Friday night’s show at ISSUE Project Room marked several passages. First and foremost, it was the final concert in the experimental venue’s space of four years, the Old American Can Factory, in Gowanus, before it moves to 110 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn. And so it’s also the last time that many will trek up three flights of stairs in a sparse, gray studio building on an industrial corner of Third Avenue. Originally intended as a three-month stint, its tenure ushered in a wave of development in music and performance, not only near the Gowanus Canal, but across the borough.
ISSUE Project Room, which was established in 2003 on the Lower East Side by artist Suzanne Fiol, who passed away from cancer in 2009, at age 49, won a 20-year rent-free lease at Livingston Street. The 1926 Beaux Arts-style building was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, and formerly housed the New York City Board of Education. Described by Fiol as a “Carnegie Hall for the avant-garde,” the space’s jewel box theater, once fully renovated, will be truly one of a kind. Speaking by phone last week, ISSUE Executive Director Ed Patuto shared: “There is no other European-style music chamber hall in all of New York. We don’t know of any others in the country, though we assume there have to be some others. And so the sound in there is really remarkable; it’s incredibly rich.” When work is complete, the theater will be the only space in New York with the ability to display 360° visuals and multi-channel sound.
For now the crew will undergo a “test run” in the space. “We won’t start construction to do all the renovations for at least another year,” Patuto said. “Before we finish all of the architectural and engineering drawings and work that needs to be done to plan the renovation—the usual construction work—we want to learn as much as we can, in terms of how to treat the room acoustically, so that we don’t over-engineer it.” Performances kick off January 25 with Gaudeamus Muziekweek New York, a satellite of the Dutch performance festival. In planning the new venue, ISSUE personnel studied various venues in Europe, where many modern performance spaces are housed in historic buildings. “We studied spaces in Holland,” Patuto added, “Various Dutch spaces in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, as well as other places around the world to see what they had done and how they did it: How they would accommodate both the architecture of the past and provide contemporary artists with the tools that they need to perform. And so it seems fitting that we would do what will be an annual festival, Gaudeamus Muziekweek New York, as our soft opening in this space.”
Back at the Old American Can Factory, ISSUE celebrated the release of a live recording by Jonathan Kane’s February, the first on its new imprint, ISSUE Project Room Editions. The six-song set is culled from two nights at the Can Factory in February 2010. And “Factory” is somewhat apt, here, as the quintet play a loud, propulsive strain of the blues, anchored by the former Swans member’s motorik beat. Add in projections of colorful portraiture on the white brick, including a large eyeball with a hypnotic swirling pattern, and there are deep shades of the Velvet Underground.
Calling themselves a “no-school” rap duo, Kevin Shea and Matt Mottel of Talibam! affected Midnight Vultures-era Beck in sunglasses, vintage sport jackets and popped collars — or, maybe, the Beastie Boys when they work in hardcore guitar crunch. Their Reagan-era Casanova boasts (“Pump up the volume / I’m out to win”) were pumped as much by the crowd as the no wave noise and synth beats backing them. Party vibe aside, Talibam! have pushed boundaries with releases on ESP Disk and stints with Rhys Chatham. Mottel was an ISSUE Artist-in-Residence in 2010.
Jonathan Kane also rattled the packed crowd with plenty of volume. “We’re closing it out with a big, fucking bang,” the drummer yelled from behind his kit. Kane dedicated the night to Fiol, to rapturous applause. Dressed in black, the band thundered through instrumental numbers, taking advantage of the airy space and its thick concrete walls. They have a song called “Blissed Out Rag,” found on the live recording, just to give you some idea. As the room heated up, and the crowd danced and got amorous, I retreated to the narrow waiting area, which was as packed as it was earlier in the evening, before the doors opened.